A while back, I discovered to my horror, while trying to ride Saleem in a halter, that he relied completely on the bit for support and in fact, he dared not canter without the rein.
I always thought of myself as a rider with a light hand, but sometimes you have to take a good look in the mirror and realize that what you are doing is just not good enough. I knew I was “supporting” him on the rein, because he is a headshaker and he needs stable contact so he won’t get bothered by the rein moving, and besides, he had a tendency to fall, if I didn’t hold on to him at a canter…
Lots of excuses, none of them valid. I will not have a horse that needs support from the rein at any gait. Yes, Saleem has had a tendency to drop to his front knees once in a while, but holding on to the rein won’t stop that, in fact, it is probably damaging his balance and making him more prone to do just that. So, I set out to teach myself, and my horse, to let go of the rein. Something I could have sworn I wouldn’t need, because I never hold on to the rein. My horse thought otherwise.
I have spent the last few months, letting go. And here we are, Saleem finding his balance, keeping a steady, (almost) three beat canter, without use of the rein, and we are even doing something he finds extremely difficult. Cantering across a bar on the ground.
I am wearing a saddle, because I realized, it helps me relax the lower part of my legs, so I won’t be poking him to move forward at all times. Yes, I have been doing that as well, always feeling that he is a little below tempo, but that is another story. The saddle is also good for giving me a false sense of security when I canter without my rein. Having stirrups gets me a long way in how brave I am.
It’s strange. I am not afraid of Saleem at all. He is a wonderful horse, he would never throw me intentionally, and I am usually the kind of rider who doesn’t fall off unless I am thrown off intentionally by the horse. Poseidon taught me to hang on for dear life, I grew up riding a fast forward race horse, with no breaks and a very nervous and dangerous temper, and I always rode him without a saddle.
So why would I find it so hard to ride Saleem, who is always a little below tempo, a little too shy, never exploding in my face, and with perfectly installed breaks? The funny part is, I don’t even use the reins to stop my horses, I use my weight. This is a perfect shot at the exact moment where I am changing from canter to trot.
Saleem is a very well ridden, well trained, well behaved young man. And I am clearly, afraid to trust him.
Because he stumbles at random. My Ferrier has been helping us a lot, with our four point shoes, making it easier for Saleem to move his front legs out of the way, so to speak.
With his headshaking subsiding he hardly does stumble anymore, but he used to, and that is embedded in me. Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you are dead… because he will shake his head, stumble and fall and you will be lucky if you stay on his back, and even more lucky if you don’t, so he won’t roll over you… I have been riding this horse while sitting on needles in the past, always alert, always ready to deal with his violent headshaking, always hoping that he wouldn’t hurt himself. Because that is my worst fear. What if Saleem gets hurt because I failed to train him correctly?
So, these new pictures of a relaxed, none headshaking horse, cantering happily about at a lose rein, and a rider who dares let him go, means the world to me. It was long overdue, we got to this stage.
Next stop, let’s fix that off beat canter once and for all… Now that we found our balance, our calm, it should at long last, be possible. Next year, we won’t be off beat anymore, I swear, or I will stop riding this horse all together…
The thing about Saleem is, I find him very difficult to read and to work with, because he is so nice and so gentle. Everything takes such a long time with him and me, because he doesn’t give me any directions, he just ignores me or shakes his head, if he is not up for what I am asking of him, leaving me wondering, how, why, when, what I did wrong. I am used to horses, blowing up in my face, when I push a wrong button, the easily readable kind. Like Tardis.
We are working on her canter from the ground and she is really good at it, one way, but the other way, not so much. She understands what I am asking, and she strongly objects. That is a response I can work with.
First of all, because she is giving me energy to work with, she doesn’t just soldier on, and second because she gives me a very clear signal, at a very specific time, making it much easier for me to understand what is upsetting her. So, canter, with the right shoulder inside, is not good. Now, it is up to me, to figure out why not, but even if I am still working on that, it is a very defined thing to work on. Much easier than Saleem’s random headshaking and the following stumble falling, or his losing his gait, and returning to a walk, if he was overwhelmed.
I guess it is a matter of temper. I know I don’t handle him and horses like him, as well as I handle Tardis, and horses like her. But I am trying. And we are getting there, step by step. If I didn’t see improvement in us, from month to month, however small sometimes, I would seriously consider retiring him, simply because I don’t want to damage him.
An offbeat canter is something most dressage horses display these days, sadly, and so maybe I shouldn’t be that hysterical about it, but I am. An offbeat canter is applying too much pressure to his front legs. I never want to look back on Saleem and me and find that I caused him to develop a ring bone or a permanent tendon injury, because I failed to correct what we were doing. A small offbeat may seem like a minor issue, and compared to what problems we have solved already, it sure is. It is just not good enough just yet. I must never let myself think that it is. But I still believe that we are getting there.
Keeping the goal in sight, that is the key. For now, we can totally let go of the rein at a canter without headshaking, without Saleem becoming confused, or scared and falling into a trot. So yes, we are moving in the right direction at the moment.